Mental Illness and being active

Getting enough exercise and being active can be important for both your mental and physical health. Some medications might make you feel more tired. However, moderate exercise can help to improve your mood and general well-being and help you to feel better about yourself.

Regular exercise can also lower the risk of physical diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Being more active can also help you to be a healthier weight.

How can physical activity improve my physical health?

  • can make you fitter
  • can help you lose weight,
  • helps you build strength and muscle,
  • keeps your joints supple, and
  • has lots of other benefits too.

Regular physical activity can also lower the risk of developing physical health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer.

How can physical activity improve my mental health and well-being?

  • can help your body to release ‘good hormones’ endorphins. They can make you feel good and improve mood,
  • can help with concentration,
  • can help you get a better night sleep,
  • can change your body and mind which may help you feel more confident,
  • fitness routines can help to manage your mental health, and
  • fitness goals may help with motivation.

Can my medication or mental health condition make me less active?

Your medication or your mental health condition might make it difficult for you to be active.  You may feel:

  • tired,
  • dizzy,
  • slow moving,
  • you lack motivation, and
  • lack energy

But you can do it! Doing little bits often can make a big difference to your physical and mental well-being. You may find it helpful to start small. This maybe something as simple as walking to shop for milk instead of taking transport. Our getting started blog has some great tips to help.

What comes to mind when you think of ‘physical activity’?


  • the gym?
  • running?
  • swimming?
  • rounders?
  • dance?
  • yoga?
  • walking?
  • table tennis?
  • hula-hooping?

It’s all those things and so much more. Anything that gets your body moving is a physical activity.

How much physical activity should I be aiming for?

Any  physical activity is better than none. Guidelines say  adults should aim to do about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This can be broken up into chunks, for example, you could do 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

This is something to aim towards. If you don’t do much physical activity right now, start off small and build up. Aim for 30 minutes per week to start with. This can be broken down into 10-minute blocks if you prefer.

Moderate physical activity could include:

  • Walking quickly. You could search for a local walking group or try Active 10
  • Cycling. You could search for your local Wheels for Wellbeing centre
  • Swimming.
  • Jogging. You could try Couch to 5k or your local parkrun.
  • Tennis. You could find a local cardio tennis session.
  • Walking football.  You can search for a local walking football session.
  • Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and break you into a sweat. But you should not be so breathless that you can’t talk.

If you have not done any exercise for some time or have other health problems, you could discuss increasing your physical activity with your GP.

Can I get a physical activity prescription from my GP?

You might be able to get a physical activity prescription from your GP. Often these are called ‘exercise prescriptions’ or ‘social prescriptions.’

These prescriptions give you free or reduced rate exercise sessions. You could ask your GP surgery if they are able to provide exercise prescriptions. They might only offer them to people who are over a certain weight or body mass index (BMI) or who have certain health conditions.

Personal budgets

If you receive a personal budget, you could use this money on something that would help your physical health such as:

  • Buy new trainers.
  • Try out a local yoga or Zumba class.
  • A support worker to help you go to a fitness class.
  • A gym membership.
  • Use local leisure centre facilities.
  • Buy a bike.

Remember that you need to agree with professionals what you can spend your personal budget on. This could be your care coordinator at your mental health team or a social worker from the local social care team.

Only people who have a high enough level of support needs receive these budgets. If you are assessed as having high enough support needs, you could ask for a personal budget instead of receiving other services.

For more information about personal budgets you can view our ‘social care – direct payments’ factsheet.

Rethink Activity project

At Rethink Mental Illness we are helping people severely affected by mental illness and carers to be more active and help break down some of the barriers that people may face.

Working with people with lived experience, we have co-produced a toolkit for peer support groups, services, local organisations and individuals to start facilitating physical activity opportunities for people living with mental illness.

The toolkit includes lots of information including what is physical activity and the benefits, barriers and solutions, top tips, activity ideas, case studies, useful contacts, plus lots more. We want to help people access new opportunities in their community in a supportive and safe environment.

You don’t need to have any experience – just the desire and motivation to help! Download the toolkit now to get started. 

Contact us now to find out how you can be more active or if you want support to help others – contact Mel Islin at

I don’t want to exercise by myself!

You don’t have to. There are many exercise groups locally. Look for:

Walking groups

Groups set up in many local areas that meet regularly to walk together. They can be a way to get active and also to meet with other people and explore new places.

Useful organisations:

Walking for Health


Telephone: 020 7339 8541


Ramblers Association promotes walking for pleasure and runs local groups.


Telephone: 020 7339 8500

You could also find details of local walking groups through your library.

Conservation volunteer schemes

These run environmental projects and community groups where people can volunteer to help reclaim local green places. Offers a chance to help your local area and be outdoors as well as getting physically active.

They also run ‘green gyms’ – a range of practical projects involving physical jobs in the outdoors.


Telephone: 01302 388883

You might have local organisations that organise physical activities. You could see if there are any local Rethink Mental Illness services ( or check other organisations such as Mind ( If you have a care coordinator, you could ask if they know of anything.

Need more advice?

If you need more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service.
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